Imagining a Post-Military World (Part II)
Shouldn’t international financial aid be given first to countries that spend more on their people than on their militaries?
August 22, 2012
I want to start with a simple idea. In the future, let us commit to using international financial resources in such a manner that we prioritize support for those developing nations that stand out in the most critical regard of all: They spend more on environmental protection, education, health care and housing for their people than they spend on arms and soldiers.
This one step would fundamentally change the way international aid is distributed. It would end the ridiculous policies that punish countries when they make good choices. At the same time, it would end the practice of rewarding corrupt or misguided governments that create conflict and deprivation.
Better yet, we could create a strong incentive for those misguided governments to change their ways — and fast. This would make a real difference in some of the most dangerous and conflict-ridden nations on earth.
Let’s consider the sad story of Haiti. Not only has that country been ignored by the world, but it has also been punished for one of the best decisions in its history.
I worked closely with Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995, helping to bring about his abolition of Haiti’s armed forces. In making that proposition to him, I was of course following the model that my own country of Costa Rica wisely made a half-century earlier, all the way back in 1948.
However, Haiti’s current president, Michel Martelly, is now considering reestablishing the country’s army. This would cost $95 million in one of the poorest countries in the world. In today’s world of billions and trillions, that may not sound like much. But it is — certainly in Haiti’s case.
As I wrote to President Martelly last year, that money “should be invested in education for your people, in health for your children, in strengthening your democratic institutions to guarantee a minimum of political stability.” I believe those actions would do far more for his country’s security.
But that is not the message that the rest of the world has sent. The developed world has done nothing to create an incentive for Haiti to invest funds in human development. In fact, it has done the opposite. I know this because my country and my region learned the same lesson.
It could have been different
In the 1980s, the countries of Central America received no end of attention from the superpowers involved in our conflicts. They supplied the weapons — and we supplied the bodies.
But after 1987, when the presidents of Central America came together to put an end to our conflicts by signing the Esquipulas peace agreement, we found that the rest of the world forgot us.
When Costa Rica’s neighbors needed support to educate former soldiers, to rebuild destroyed economies, there was little help to be found. The rules our international community has established for aid and debt forgiveness say that a country that makes good decisions must be punished.
Instead, a country that invests wisely and achieves improvements in human development is told it is “too rich” for debt forgiveness or aid. A country that finds a way out of war is told that it is no longer of interest to its more powerful neighbors.
That is why I have proposed a change: the Costa Rica Consensus. This simple idea uses international financial resources to support developing nations that spend more on environmental protection, education, health care and housing for their people, and less on arms and soldiers.
It would change the way international aid is distributed. It would end the ridiculous policies that punish countries when they make good choices, and reward corrupt or misguided governments that create conflict and deprivation. It would make a real difference in some of the most dangerous and conflict-ridden nations on earth.
During my recent presidential administration, I took this proposal to leaders around the world, including the World Bank and regional development banks. I was told that these organizations can’t easily modify their regulations without support from their donor countries.
That is why I have called on the World Bank and on regional development banks to invite their donor countries to create funds designed to support nations that comply with the basic requirements of the Costa Rica Consensus.
Specific funds already exist for technology, for water, and for climate change. Why not a fund that motivates countries to use their resources to improve human security?
Why not allow rich countries to double the impact of their aid dollars by not only addressing human need, but also requiring developing nations to make changes from within, and promoting best practices in socioeconomic development?
We are all familiar with Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” What is the continuing suffering of Haiti if not insanity? What is the plight of sub-Saharan Africa if not insanity?
What is the continuing failure of Central America to overcome its past and join the developed world if not insanity? What are the tragedies of Afghanistan and Pakistan if not insanity? Revising the rules of the game is not foolish. It is the only sane approach.
Of course, I do not suggest that international aid is responsible for the failures I have mentioned. But without a doubt, it has not been leveraged as it could be. Without a doubt, it has not fulfilled its potential to bring about a solution.
For those concerned with making the best use of limited resources, that must be an issue of utmost concern. This is an idea whose time has come. But the change will not occur by chance. It can only occur by choice.
A comprehensive arms trade treaty
Another idea that has the power to improve international security without any spending to speak of has emerged from painful lessons my country learned in the 1980s.
Despite the end of conflicts in Central America, the irresponsible flow of small arms and light weapons that occurred in the previous decades had done its damage, and continued to wreak havoc in our societies.
For many years after arms suppliers channeled weapons to Central American armies or paramilitary forces in the 1980s, those weapons were found in the hands of the gangs that roamed the countryside of Nicaragua or of teenage boys on the streets of San Salvador and Tegucigalpa. Other weapons were shipped to guerrilla or paramilitary groups, as well as drug cartels, in Colombia, ready to destroy yet more lives.
We learned the hard way that a shipment of weapons into a developing country is like a virus in a crowded room. It cannot be contained. We do not know whom it will attack, and it can spread in ways we would never have imagined.
As I watched what was happening to my region, I realized that the same story was being repeated, time and time again, in developing countries all over the world. It is happening today in countries such as Libya and Syria, where conventional weapons are being channeled in the service of short-term goals, with no thought for the eventual consequences.
As any Central American can tell you, the weapons sold to the Middle East today might end up in anyone’s hands. We cannot foresee their consequences. The only certainty is that we cannot control the outcome.
That is why I began an effort in 1997, along with other Nobel Peace Prize laureates, to establish a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty, which would prohibit the transfer of arms to states, groups or individuals, if sufficient reason exists to believe that those arms will be used to violate human rights or international law.
The destructive power of the 640 million small arms and light weapons that exist in the world — most in the hands of civilians — demands our attention. It is a threat to security that requires no great expenditure to combat. It requires only political will.
That is why its path to reality has been such a difficult one. It was scheduled for a vote this July at the United Nations, but stalled because of opposition from the strong and consolidated interests of some of the world’s leading arms exporters — foremost among them, the United States.
These arms exporters might ask why they should sacrifice any of their own sovereignty or discretion voluntarily. My answer to them is that no definition of sovereignty can include the freedom to enable the violation of human rights, the murder of the innocent, or the oppression of the world’s neediest and most helpless.
No definition of national security or self-defense allows room for such acts. These concepts are thoroughly ingrained in the framework of international law that our world has developed in the past half-century.
All the Arms Trade Treaty would do is draw the link between enabling these violations and committing them. It simply fills in the blanks of the promises of the past in order to address the demands and dangers of this new millennium. For in today’s world, this treaty is no longer a matter of idealism alone. It is a matter of practical concerns.
If it is legitimate for us to worry about the possibility that terrorist networks gain access to a nuclear weapon, it is also legitimate for us to worry about the rifles, grenades and machine guns that fall into their hands — not to mention the hands of young people, gangs and drug cartels.
Who said that killing thousands in a single instant is worse than killing thousands one by one, every day? The regulation of conventional weapons is essential to the safety not only of countries in conflict, but of all countries.
This too is an idea whose time has come. But the change will not occur by chance. It can only occur by choice.
The legacy we leave
The Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus likes to say that he hopes that one day, the children of his country, Bangladesh, and the children of the world will have to go to a museum to learn about poverty, since it no longer exists.
In Costa Rica, we have not yet reached that goal, but our National Museum is housed in what was once a military barracks, so that our children really do have to go to a museum to see what military spending looks like.
I am not so naïve as to think that many other countries will confine its weapons to a museum. But the pace of change on our planet means that today’s news is always tomorrow’s historical artifact.
There is always something about to be lost, about to become part of the past and not the present. And whether we like it or not, we are all part of tomorrow’s exhibit.
So the choice before us is this: What are we willing to leave behind? What legacy will we create for tomorrow’s museum walls? Will it be more documents with losses and casualties? Will it be evidence of continued military spending beyond all proportion?
Will we place behind glass the faces of children whose hopes were dashed by our choices, whose dreams were deferred by a refusal to use our resources to alleviate human suffering?
Or will we start to replace those artifacts with proof of a change of strategy, intelligent reductions of weapons, a consensus for development, and a treaty to stop needless bloodshed? Will we start to replace those artifacts with news about the world’s realization that we cannot afford to continue as we are — neither in economic terms, nor in human terms?
The choice is clear. If we can rise to the challenge, the day may finally be in sight when we begin to write a new story for humankind. The day may finally be in sight when violence ceases to be the birthright of our sons and daughters. The day may finally be in sight when, at long last, the art of war gives way to the art of peace.
This article is adapted from the author’s keynote address at the Affordable World Security Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 28, 2012. The event was sponsored by the W.P. Carey Foundation and the EastWest Institute.
Read Part I
The rules our international community has established for aid and debt forgiveness say that a country that makes good decisions must be punished.
A country that invests wisely and achieves improvements in human development, is then told it is "too rich" for debt forgiveness or aid.
In the 1980s, Central America received no end of attention from the superpowers. They supplied the weapons — and we supplied the bodies.
In Central America, we learned the hard way that a shipment of weapons into a developing country is like a virus. It cannot be contained.
The regulation of conventional weapons is essential to the safety not only of countries in conflict, but of all countries.
President of Costa Rica (1986-1990 and 2006-2010) Oscar Arias was president of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and from 2006 to 2010. In 1987, He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to establish a lasting peace throughout Central America. He used the monetary award from the prize to establish the Arias […]